Jasper Tan’s 3 mantras of HR

Jasper Tan’s 3 mantras of HR


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Author: Jasper Tan | Head of Human Resources, Japfa Ltd


The realm of Human Resources is a complex one. Every issue is unique, even if they seem similar, and every solution is contextual, and not readily reusable. There is no destination in HR, just a perpetual journey towards new planes, new norms. Having said that, I have always abided by 3 simple rules when dealing with HR issues regardless of their magnitude or complexity. These rules have worked well for me in almost all situations, and I would like to share it here.


Structure drives behavior. To cultivate a certain culture and mindset within the organization, employees need to have a substantial level of certainty and expectancy when dealing with their company. They need to feel to be in a relatively safe understanding that their company, almost all the time, will manage them in a fair, logical and pragmatic manner. And this goes both ways. They also almost always expect that their own requests to their company are justified and not beyond reason. They are not slaves, but neither is their company a charity.

For that, every aspect of managing people must be structured. Generally, you can argue that barring any outlying reasons, outcomes of similar issues would correspondingly be synonymous too. It would be disruptive and cancerous to any organization if 2 employees ask for the same thing and get different answers. As such, for any given issue, the application of a solution must be Principled, Proportionate and Purposeful.

Principled. HR does not exist in any company for itself. It exists to drive staff performance, ensure leadership renewal, and promote staff engagement and commitment. All these to achieve the company’s business goals. Thus the principles, or “why” of every HR policy must be aligned to achieving just that. This is to me the litmus test of whether any policy is truly for the benefit of the company and its staff, or just to make HR look relevant.

Proportionate. Most HR solutioning tends to err on the safe side, giving a little each time, hiding behind the veil of not “setting a precedence” or “opening the floodgates”. While we must be careful not to be nonchalant or loose, we must more importantly be cognizant that the response is adequate for the issue as promised. A balance must be achieved, and it must go back to the principle of being aligned with the company goals.

Purposeful. The issue must be resolved. The response or solution must be directly applicable, tangible and affect the outcome of the issue sufficiently to resolve it. If Principles relate to the intention, then Purpose means the actions to achieve that intent. Many HR policies fail because, while the formulation and framing of the policy might be logical and sound, the last-mile implementation fizzles out as the theoretical policy is not in sync with current realities on the ground. Sadly, most HR policies remain a document to be whipped out when employees fall out of line.


Employees do fall out of line. But sometimes circumstantially not by any fault of theirs. Policies are never perfect, and you’d be happy enough if your policies cater to most people most of the time. Thus policies must always have an exit clause, enough slack and ambiguity to allow for adaptation and flexibility. Here, a word of caution: policies must never be free to interpretation. The clarity of intent and parameters of every policy must be beyond doubt. It is the severity or range of response that can be stretched to cater to outliers and special circumstances.

If policies are clearly crafted and communicated, then HR practitioners do not need to manage them on a day to day basis, as most employees will fall in line and operate within the boundaries of that policy. But occasionally, circumstances or temporal fluctuations in environment may trigger anomalies that prevent the same rule to be applied consistently. In these exceptional cases, we manage by exception. And this drives home my most important point in this article: If we have good policies, then our time is dedicated to managing these exceptions.

Here, I would like to propose a 30/70 rule. We should be spending 30% of our time and effort administering to our operational routine work, holding the fort, ensuring operational excellence of our key HR processes and functions. 70% of our time should then be spent managing exceptions, providing value-add to those employees that are facing issues with our policies and not operating optimally because of them.

This is a stark contrast to what I observe as the norm today. We seem to be drowning in daily administration, and are irked no end by employees who present their problems to us. If our policies are sound to begin with, then they take care of themselves and most of the employees, and thus allowing us to focus on the real reason for being HR – helping those who face issues to resolve them and get back to generating productive value for the company. If this is not the current tempo in your HR team, then it may be a good time to review your policies to see if they are serving the purpose that they were meant to.


This is where it gets hard. Most HR practitioners are seemingly proud that we use a language that is cold, unfeeling and distant. We rationalize it to read: “Official and Professional”. But no, it is cold, unfeeling and distant. Some of my favourites: “We regret to inform you that…”, “It has come to our attention that…”, Please be informed that with effect from…”, “Due to unforeseen circumstances…”. I could go on. YOU could go on, and we’ll all laugh at how silly we sound now.

The real test of engaging genuinely and sincerely is this: how would YOU want to receive the news? Aren’t we employees too? And if we won’t accept this language when it happens to us, why are we doing it to everyone else on a daily basis? We don’t speak like that to our family, and we actually spend more time communicating at work than at home.

Let me offer a suggestion. Write every response as if you were writing it to the top guy in your company, be it your CEO or Chairman or MD. You will immediately notice a change in tone, an increase in effort at trying to explain the background and rationale, and a general softening of the words we use, and the effect they will have on the recipient.

There is no need to sound official if there’s nothing to hide in what you want to say. It is only when we are trying to cover-up the real reasons behind our answer that we try to muddle it with big words and nuances. It will show in an instance that we are not genuine, and unable to engage by heart. So engage as you would want to be engaged. Don’t try to fool them, for they are intelligent enough to see through it and reveal your own foolishness.

My 3 mantras of establishing structure, allowing flexibility, and finally being sincere have been useful guides in my HR journey. I have yet to come across a situation where I had to betray any of them. As we move into greater automation, more complex processes and larger organisations, let us not lose the human touch in our dealings, for what is our relevance if not to be human?

This article was first published here.


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